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Goal 6
"Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all"

Lack of water, deterioration of water quality, and insufficient sanitation have a negative impact on food security, livelihood, and educational opportunities for poor families around the world. Currently, more than 2 billion people live at the risk of freshwater depletion, and by 2050, at least one in four will live under the influence of chronic and repetitive water shortages. In particular, drought causes damage to the poorest countries that aggravate hunger and nutritional deficiency. Fortunately, significant progress has been made in drinking water and hygiene over the past decade, with more than 90% of the world's population currently accessing improved drinking water sources.

In order to improve the water condition and supply accessibility, developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, South Asia, Eastern Asia and Southeast Asia need to expand investments in regional water ecosystem and sanitation management.

6.1 By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all

6.2 By 2030, achieve access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation, paying special attention to the needs of women and girls and those in vulnerable situations

6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally

6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity

6.5 By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate

6.6 By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes

6.a By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

6.b Support and strengthen the participation of local communities in improving water and sanitation management

SDG 6 and the UN Human Rights Mechanisms

      1st UPR Cycle

      2nd UPR Cycle

      3rd UPR Cycle

Recommending State
Cooperate responsibly with the international community
Take measures to ensure international humanitarian aid reaches the most vulnerable and needy
Work closely with humanitarian agencies to ensure their free and unimpeded access to all populations in need and that humanitarian aid is distributed transparently and reaches the most vulnerable citizens
New Zealand
Secure unlimited access and entirely satisfactory monitoring conditions for humanitarian organisations
Take immediate steps to allocate proper budgetary resources to ensure protection of the rights to food, health, water and sanitation
Continue its efforts to fulfil the economic, social and cultural rights of all
Pay greater attention to the construction of sanitation facilities and housing constructions in rural areas
Make efforts to supply quality drinking water and provide adequate cultural facilities to the rural population
Continue ensuring the right to safe drinking water and sanitation for all persons
Continue to make efforts to ensure the supply of quality drinking water to all of the population
South Sudan
Take concrete measures to further improve hygiene and sanitation in all parts of the country
Continue to promote economic, social and culture development to provide better conditions for the enjoyment of all rights by its people
Grant access to the United Nations and other international humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups
Grant immediate, free and unimpeded access to international humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups, including prisoners
Secure unlimited humanitarian access to all provinces of the country
Take further measures to ensure that all citizens enjoy their civil, cultural, economic and social rights
Strengthen its efforts to overcome the challenges that negatively impact the promotion and protection of human rights and to provide adequate conditions favorable to the enjoyment of human rights in accordance with international standards
State of Palestine
Continue to make efforts to develop education and health care, to better protect people's right to education and right to health
Ensure the protection of the rights to food, health, water and sanitation, as previously recommended
Enhance measures to ensure the availability and accessibility of essential services for all and the enjoyment of rights by women, children and persons with disabilities
Continue the development of the health sector and achieve universal health care
Continue its initiatives to improve public health services, in line with the right to health
Continue modernizing the national health system in favour of the population
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Recommending State
Review its legal and administrative measures with a view to ensuring the dignity and better living conditions of the vulnerable groups, including women and children
Continue its cooperation with the international community in solving humanitarian issues of mutual concern
Viet Nam
Continue giving priority to vulnerable groups in the distribution of international assistance
In line with previous recommendations made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, make every effort to reinforce protection of the right to life and development of all children
Take the necessary steps to ensure impartial access to adequate food, drinking water and other basic necessities for all people within its jurisdiction, including vulnerable groups
Intensify its efforts to promote and protect the human rights of specific groups within society, such as women, children, disabled persons and the elderly, with a view to empowering them and alleviating their vulnerability
Continue to seek constructive cooperation with international mechanisms and other countries in areas of human rights in a non confrontational and non-politicized manner
Continue to cooperate with the United Nations, other international organizations and the world community to settle all the humanitarian issues
Lao People's Democratic Republic
Demonstrate a genuine willingness to improve its human rights record by engaging more positively and openly with the international community, including the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights, and work constructively with the United Nations system to bring its human rights into line with international standards
Invite the Special Rapporteur and/or an international humanitarian organization recognized for its independence to visit "reform institutions" and other correctional and penitentiary institutions to assess/evaluate detention conditions with a view to proposing measures to improve these conditions so that they meet international norms and standards
Guarantee international humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors immediate access to political prisons and other camps, as well as to their surviving victims, in order to provide primary care
Provide international humanitarian organisations with immediate, free and unimpeded access to all populations in need, including those held in labour camps or political prison camps
Allow humanitarian assistance providers operating in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea unrestricted and independent movement throughout the country, as well as direct and unimpeded access to all populations in need
United States of America
Take concrete measures to improve conditions of detention by implementing the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules) and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules)

SDG 6 and the North Korean Government


In its own reporting on progress made towards achieving SDG 6, the North Korean state has shared that it is achieving slow progress in the provision of safe drinking water and clean sanitation. The DPRK government recognises the importance of improving water quality and the multiple challenges in increasing the effectiveness of water use and tackling drinking water shortages. In relation to this, the North Korean authorities indicate that the application of gravity fed water supply systems has had a positive impact.

The DPRK enacted the Law on the Control of Mineral Water on October 12, 2017. The government claims that it has contributed to the improvement of the quality of tap water via the introduction of nano technology to the purification and disinfection of tap water. Additionally, North Korean authorities have built mineral water factories to provide people with quality drinking water.

According to information published in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of the Workers’ Party of Korea, the state has been disinfecting facilities for provision of drinking water according to established standards in order to ensure the safety and hygiene of the North Korean citizens. Moreover, the state has taken the necessary measures to provide citizens of urban areas in both the capital and the provinces with clean drinking water during the rainy season, which is often associated with flooding and contamination of water sources. This involves the execution of inspection rounds in Pyongyang, where areas that can be affected by the heavy rains are identified and the proper functioning of water pumps is checked.

In its 2021 VNR report, the DPRK stated that “In the country, the gravity fed water supply system (GFS) has been proven effective and introduced widely, contributing to drinking water supply to the residents.” and further mentioned that “In 2018, a provision to give priority to GFS in construction of water supply systems was added to the detailed enforcement regulation of the Law on Water Supply.” The North Korean government has reported that it has increased its processing capacity threefold and is able to effectively apply biological purification technology to manage waste water.

The DPRK also mentioned in its 2021 VNR report that “Projects are underway for integrated water resources management (IWRM) in cooperation with neighboring countries.” Moreover, according to the report, the law on IWRM was adopted, relevant institutions created, and infrastructure for rational use of water resources was built according to the plan. Additionally, North Korean authorities have shared in the past with UNESCO that severe meteorological conditions have pushed the state to focus on integrated water resource management such as construction of banks to prevent flooding at the Taedong River. The North Korean government has also shared plans for integrated water resource management project for ecosystem recovery in North Pyongan Province.

SDG 6 and North Korean Escapees

“There are water facilities, but sometimes the water supply is cut off. What’s more, the water can’t reach the top floors, so people there have to draw water to drink. As there are no elevators, people draw water and walk up to the 10th or 15th floor.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“There are water facilities, but [the water] is sometimes supplied once every three days, or once a week. In the winter, there are times when there is no water supply, but instead there is stream water. When the water supply gets cut off, people draw water and fill two or three 50 litre tanks then load them in a hand cart and sell them.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“There was no water [supply]. There were faucets, but the pressure was not enough so I had to draw water from the first floor.”

[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“The water itself came out black as if it was river water. We didn’t boil the water as there was no electricity. Even in winter, we couldn’t light a fire. You could only boil water if you had firewood. We let the dirt sink, or just drank the water as it was.” 

[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)]

“(In 2016) typhoid and paratyphoid (diseases caused by drinking water) spread around. I just drank stream water because there was no electricity. If South Korean people had to do the same, they would have died.” 

[Interview by NKDB in 2019 (NKDB Unified Human Rights Database)] 

SDG 6 and the International Community

Estimates show that 8.4 million people in North Korea (33% of the population) need humanitarian support in relation to water and sanitation with only about 0.3 million people targeted by aid in this category. This share increases to 50% of the total population in rural areas. Furthermore, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) data provided by UNICEF indicates that, as of 2017, 83% of the population uses untreated drinking water. The rate of installment of indoor water supply plants is considered to be standard and shows an increasing tendency. At the same time, 2019 data shows that 61% of North Korean people have access to safely managed drinking water. When broken down according to geographical area, this share is 71% in urban areas and 45% in rural areas. What is of bigger concern is that almost a quarter of all households in North Korea drink water contaminated with faecal matter. Most homes don’t have access to the sewer system and are not equipped with a septic tank, so as a result, only 48% have access to correctly managed sanitation. Pyongyang and North Hamgyong Province emerge as the two regions with the higher percentage of people using safe drinking services, while provinces such as South Pyongan, North and South Hwanghae and Gangwon demonstrate the lowest percentage of such access.

Poor conditions of sanitation facilities and unsafe disposal of human waste threaten the lives of 3 out of 10 people in urban areas and 9 out of 10 people in rural ones in North Korea. Many households use onsite sanitation facilities with unsafe disposal of excreta or facilities that can be referred to as open defecation environment. The lack of access to improved drinking water source is leading to 60% higher chance of stunting in children and 36% higher chance of diarrhoea in children under five.

The shortage of electricity in the DPRK combined in some cases with lack of reservoir water forces residents to seek drinking water from unsafe sources such as waterways. Bottled mineral water sold in North Korea is too expensive, with 500 ml costing almost a month’s salary. Therefore buying mineral water is not affordable for the majority of the population. The power shortages in the country affect the effectiveness of water treatment plants, which are in some cases renovated but without being powered with electricity are of little use. According to an internal source, as a result many North Koreans have to boil their tap water in order to avoid developing severe diseases.


In the field of transboundary water cooperation, the DPRK has had more active engagement with China and partially South Korea. The Yalu and Tumen river basins are transboundary for China and the DPRK, and the Imjin River and the Han River basin and its aquifer - for the DPRK and South Korea. In 2009, North Korea withdrew from the Greater Tumen Initiative, an intergovernmental cooperation mechanism (currently among China, Mongolia, South Korea and Russia) and has not indicated its intention to re-join the partnership. North Korea’s cooperation with China in relation to the Yalu and Tumen Rivers and resource management and sharing of hydroelectricity has been the focus of cooperation in the Yalu River basin. However, according to the East Asia Institute, the biennial meetings between officials from the two governments also include discussions on the treatment of illegal migrants and travellers on the border,which is clearly related to the issue of forced repatriation of North Korean defectors by the Chinese authorities. Additionally, efforts in the Tumen River basin ideally should be focusing more on water quality as the river water has been examined to show extremely high levels of pollution thus making it unfit for drinking water use by the nearby population in both China and North Korea. Cooperation between South and North Korea on the management of the Imjin River and the Han River basin has been challenged by the volatile nature of the inter-Korean relations. Many water management cooperation projects initiated by South Korea have been designed as potential steps towards improvement of relations and unification. However issues such as poor communications and difficulty of operating with resources located in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) have stalled cooperation. Moreover, occasional unannounced releases of dam water from facilities operated by North Korea cause damages on the South Korean side of the Imjin River.

In relation to the protection of water-related ecosystems, in 2018 the DPRK acceded to the UN Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. As a result, two sites in North Korea have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance - Rason Migratory Bird Reserve and Mundok Migratory Bird Reserve.Moreover, as a result of the consistent work of organisations such as Hanns Seidel Foundation, there has been an increase in the awareness in the DPRK on the linkages between protection of the environment (and ecosystems), improvement of the living conditions of North Korean people in rural areas, and sustainable development. Cooperation with North Korean authorities on wetlands preservation has been challenging due to the isolated nature of the regime and political differences between partners, but some important progress has been made in recent years that has potential positive impacts on regulation of floods and management of sources of food and drinking water.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Mission in the DPRK has contributed significantly to the improvement of the water access of peri-urban communities in North Korea. Most recently ICRC has worked on projects in South Hamgyong and South Pyongan Provinces, working with local authorities on construction of wells, pipelines, filtration systems, distribution networks for supplying water to households, and the installation of gravity flow water-supply systems.

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